The Bruins had no business playing overtime Saturday at TD Garden. For the first two periods, they controlled the puck on just about every shift.
Yet after a shorthanded goal by Patrick Dwyer tied the game, 2-2, at 11:10 of the third period, the Bruins were in danger of recording just 1 point when a 2-point result was their deserved target.
They only had to backtrack two days to recall how the shootout does not work in their favor. The Bruins had submitted a thorough effort against St. Louis, one of the Western Conference’s elite, musclebound clubs.
But Boston’s whimper of a performance in the shootout produced 1 point and a room full of gripes about the post-overtime gimmick. Funny how the Blues weren’t doing any complaining about the shootout.
Claude Julien had no intentions of watching his players shoot blanks in the shootout for the second time in two games. For each of the three overtime shifts, Julien tabbed three forwards and one defenseman. The second line started overtime. The third line took the next shift.
Top-liners Milan Lucic, David Krejci, and Jarome Iginla finished the job at 1:28 to give the Bruins a 3-2 win.
“We’ve practiced that this year when we’ve done our four-on-four,” Julien explained. “We haven’t been very lucky in shootouts. I thought it was important to get a line out there and give us some more offense because of the fact that they’re used to playing with each other. It’s not about taking that chance, but taking that strategy of having one defenseman and making sure a forward always came back. Tonight, it paid off.”
On the winning goal, Iginla attacked Tim Gleason and Ryan Murphy. Iginla carved through both defensemen, cut to the right, and fed Krejci in the middle. As Cam Ward hit the deck, Krejci waited until the goalie was out of position before he tucked the puck in the net. Krejci showed patience and finish to give the Bruins the 2 points they deserved.
For whatever reason, Krejci and most of his teammates don’t have the finishing touch in the shootout. The Bruins are 1-2 in the shootout. Of the 11 shots the Bruins have attempted, only three have landed in the net: two off the stick of Patrice Bergeron and one by Iginla. Bergeron scored the only shootout goal against the Blues. Krejci, Loui Eriksson, Chris Kelly, Carl Soderberg, and Ryan Spooner are a combined 0 for 6.
“We definitely didn’t want to go in a shootout,” Krejci said. “Especially me. I didn’t feel really comfortable.”
Ward (35 saves) was the primary reason why the Bruins couldn’t finish the job in regulation. Ward posted his best stop halfway through the game when he stoned Brad Marchand on an odd-man rush. Ward also had help from his net. Zdeno Chara pasted the post with a second-period one-timer. In the third, Iginla snapped the puck off iron.
But the Bruins didn’t finish their chances either.
“After the first and second intermission, we talked about teams like that, if you keep them around, they’re going to find an opportunity,” defenseman Reilly Smith said. “They came back in the third and had a little bit more momentum, more energy coming at us. It was tough to let that shorthanded goal go. But we were still optimistic going into overtime with the lineup we have.”
The Bruins are in their first season without their shootout ace. During his three years in Boston, Tyler Seguin went 13 for 27 in the shootout. Seguin decided five shootouts with his goals.
This season, the Bruins have yet to find that kind of performer. They may not have one on their roster.
So that’s why it was crucial for the Bruins to take care of business in overtime. Julien recognized his lines were working. There was no reason to split them up and roll out two defensemen instead. Only one D-man would be necessary.
The Bruins, after all, take the same approach on power plays. Torey Krug is the only defenseman on the first unit. Chara is down low instead of at the blue line. On the second unit, Smith shares the point with Dougie Hamilton. The Bruins are now aggressive on the power play. They chose to be the same way in overtime.
“We shouldn’t have gotten to that stage,” Julien said. “I thought we played well enough. Especially in that first period, we had some great, great scoring chances. A little snakebitten in that area lately. I think we’re producing the chances, just not finishing them.”
The shootout is a clown’s nose on a business suit. It is a game of luck over skill.
Consider the two best teams in the shootout. Buffalo is the worst in the NHL. The Sabres were a punchline before they broomed out general manager Darcy Regier and coach Ron Rolston.
But the Sabres are the ones laughing in the shootout. They are 3-0. They’ve scored on six of their nine attempts.
The club with the second-best shootout shooting percentage (60 percent)? Only Edmonton, the second-worst team in the league.
This may be the shootout’s final at-bat. Peter Chiarelli is among the GMs who doesn’t care for the shootout. Chiarelli and his counterparts may vote to nix the shootout when they meet in late winter.
But the shootout is here to stay for the rest of 2013-14. The Bruins will do everything they can to avoid it.